The Boston bombers gave us a gift. Fear. It was a little like 9-11…the kind of day when you wake up screaming, then you realize you were never asleep. You’ll always remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard about terrible things. Like when the first plane went into the World Trade Tower on 9-11. Let me go sit down in my comfortable, big, manly black leather poppa chair…before I fall down. Just thinking about it makes me feel like I’ve swallowed a sack of cement, and it’s beginning to harden. 

Do you ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at a radio station when terrible things like that happen? Let me tell you a personal story. Once upon a time, all the way back when Louie Louie was all over the radio dial, I met my Lady Wonder Wench at  WBZ radio in Boston. She was in charge of the commercial schedule, and I was on the air. Radio was different in those days. And no radio station in the country was as different as WBZ. It was a giant. An “Everywhere Station.” Walking down the beach on a nice summer day, you didn’t need to bring your own radio. All the radios on all the beach blankets were always tuned to WBZ. It was before cars had air conditioning, so when you stopped for a red light with the windows rolled down, WBZ was on the radio in the car next to you. When we broadcast our Christmas show from Boston Common, the cops had to close all the streets around the park to accommodate the crowds. 

There have only been a few stations like WBZ. WABC in New York, WLS in Chicago, KDKA in Pittsburgh, KFI in Los Angeles…monster fifty thousand watt stations that pretty much covered the whole country at night. They were the stations on the transistor radios kids hid under their pillows to hear Louie Louie, and Can’t Get No Satisfaction, and She Loves Ya Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. But they also had real people on the air. Guys who told jokes, and stories, and sometimes kept callers from jumping off tall buildings between the music. And they had other guys who really cared about the news, keeping you informed about what Castro was doing with his Russian rockets, and what Martin Luther King’s dream was all about, and…and…Dallas. And John F. Kennedy.  

John F. Kennedy. From Boston. Unless you were there, you can’t possibly imagine the horror of that day in Boston. Try to imagine telling jokes and stories that day to people who walked the same streets he did, and went to his church on Sundays, and to the same parent-teacher meetings. It didn’t happen of course. Most of the guys on the air were in their 20s or early 30s. We were pretty good at jokes and stories. But only “The Old Man”, Carl deSuze knew what to do. He taught us all a lesson…one that helped me when Martin Luther King was shot, and when the Newark Riots broke out while I was at WNBC. Carl was ancient as far as the rest of were concerned. He must have been in his late forties. While we did record hops for some extra bucks, Carl did lectures…based on his world travels. He knew the Kennedys personally. He often hung with them at Hyanis on the Cape. 

Carl had been WBZ’s morning man since 1945. And he understood what radio was really all about. It wasn’t just jokes and stories, and rock and roll, and news about people far away. Actually, now that I think about it, it was about telling stories. It was also about being a friend. A friend you could count on when you hurt…to do whatever he could to help…including telling you stories to make you feel better. He took the station’s remote broadcasting unit down to the Common…that’s a park right in the middle of the city…and he told stories…gently…for hours…about the dead man we knew as the President, and he knew as…a friend.  

That’s the kind of thing that goes on behind the scenes at radio stations on terrible days like that. Been there done that lots of times. This time…the night of the Boston bombing, I sent a note to Peter Casey, the Program Director at WBZ. The note says, “I would give almost anything to have been on the air with you tonight. I was on the air when JFK was shot, and when King was killed. I always felt like I could put my arms around the people who were listening. The station was like a giant shoulder for people to lean on…a gentle place to fall…and a powerful helping hand to stand up again…taller and even stronger than before. 

Dick’s Details Quiz. All answers are in the current podcast.

1-    Where are the cities most often hit by hurricanes?

2-    What’s the fastest animal on earth?

3-    How can you tell if it’s a REALLY quiet night in town? 

And…the answer to the question we asked last time…Who said sex is the biggest nothing of all time…was Andy Warhol. 73% of women got it right, and 43% of men got it right. 

Dick’s Details. They take your mind off your mind. 

I put some of my note to WBZ’s Program Director Peter Casey up on the blog as a Dickie-Quickie this week. And it got lots of reaction. Here’s a note that will give you a little more of an insight into what happens at a radio station at special terrible times. It’s from a radio guy by the name of Mike Tearson. He said, “I understand. I was on the air the night John Lennon was killed. It was one of the most difficult nights I ever had on the air. That special relationship between us behind the mic and the people at the other end is a bond to be valued.”  

But how about what goes on at the other side of the mic. That Dickie-Quickie note I put on the blog a few days ago got a lot of attention. Here’s a note from a woman I am proud to call a proud podcast participant. It’s about her reaction on that terrible day in New York. Ellen is a doctor. She said, “Your thoughts about how broadcasters feel on terrible days are important to those of us who are physicians and other first responders. On 9-11 many of us had only hand held radios to keep us informed, and to comfort us as we faced an unknown enemy and a fearful future. I left my midtown Manhattan private practice office heading downtown on Fifth Avenue toward the Towers to help. I was wearing my white coat, with my stethoscope in my pocket, and my hospital ID in my one hand, and of course my radio in the other. I was wearing heels…I didn’t have sneakers or flats with me, and I was, of course, praying.” 

Praying’s not a bad idea. It looks like the bad guys are sneaking out of their holes. And that means some of our people are going to get hurt. If you’re scared, don’t be ashamed of that. It’s only when you’re scared that you can have courage. Having courage doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you simply know there are things that are more important than fear. 

So the Boston bombers gave us a gift. Fear. Among other things, a good hard shot of fear can be a sudden reminder that you’re alive. What a gift.

5 Responses to “Fear”

  1. dick butler says:

    CARL DESUZE and the rest of you guys were the classy’s crowd in Boston.
    Fear is good but don’t let it control you, because if you do they win.

  2. Sheri says:

    I was on my way to work on 9/11 listening to my favorite country station in Dayton Ohio. I had just ordered my breakfast sandwhich when my favorite DJ at the station broke into the song that was playing to tell us about it. I arrived at work, at that time I worked at a very large cable company, just in time to see the second plane hit. This past Monday I got the news about the bombing, from Facebook after having a wonderful time shopping with my daughter and youngest grand son. It brought back all the feelings from 9/11 and the fear again. I’m glad that tonight it seems they captured one of the bombers, and I’m hoping that he will give them the answer to the most important question, why. But the fear is still there, a big part of me wants to never leave the house, but I know I have to, and I will. And next weekend I will be with my father to celebrate his 80th birthday. And I will try very hard not to see the scary things, but to enjoy the weekend celebrating his 80 years here on earth, at his favorite resturant, Hooters!!

  3. Fear is def what people who do this give us, and we do realize what a gift it is to be alive , but sometimes if you have been through this enough – it is hard to feel okay, to want to be outside in the world. While we can gain strength by hanging out with folks who give us their love and support during these times, it is hard to not constantly remember what they have stolen – in my case its the precious memories of being safe. Naturally, I have always gravitated to radio when bad things happen, in Iran we did not have American radio, but Don Imus sent us tapes. In the Bay area when the 89 quake hit, it was radio that kept us together. On 9/11 it was radio and tv that let us feel a part of the social order of family as Americans. Most of my memories ( good and bad ) are tied to some DJ and some song, and whether good or bad memories I am thankful to have them. Thank you, for having been a part of our American family in good and bad times, while I do not remember you on air, I hold all DJ’s I know up to who you are and I just know in my music filled heart
    you were a rocking dude on air.

  4. Tom Preston says:

    People weren’t just listening to BZ for the music. They were also listening for you and your colleagues. At least some of us were. I was a fan from a couple of hundred miles away.

    I was supposed to go on the air for the first time the Saturday after Kennedy was killed. There were no social media of course, but I remember all the staff hanging around the studio at WVBR the Cornell radio station reading the teletype, before the copy was even removed from the machine as information came in. I don’t think we even played any top 40 music until after the funeral.

    Talk about being the listener’s personal radio friend, you are right. It used to be like that. I did an oldies show at WVBR, on Friday nights and early in the Fall semester, 1965, I got a phone call from a Freshman girl in the dorms. She was crying because it was her birthday, she was away from home for the first time, alone and I had just played “16 Candles” by the Crests. I talked to her for a couple of minutes and when I hung up, I played “A Year Ago Tonight.” I had already zoomed in on my wife, so I didn’t ask to meet her and I never found out if I made her feel a little better, but I hope so.

    And you’re right about people who care about the news too. When I switched from music to news, I worked crazy hours and did some crazy things chasing news. I loved the work if not all the bosses. If I was better at marketing myself, perhaps I could have made a living at it and if I did, I’d probably still be doing it today.

    And speaking of fear, I think it was Bob Schieffer who was interviewing some of the people from Newtown CT on Meet the Press last weekend. The daughter of one of the women who was killed said her mother wasn’t afraid as she faced the killer. Wrong, young lady. You’re not giving your mom enough credit. She was terrified, but those kids were her responsibility and she loved them. That’s why she did what she did and that’s why she died a hero. Hero is a word that we toss around all too much, but those adults at Newtown deserve it and their survivors need to understand and admire what they did. They weren’t brave instead of fearful, they were brave despite fearful. Same thing with the people who ran toward the bomb scene in Boston and same thing with the people who ran into the fertilizer plant in Texas. They may not have known how much ammonium nitrate was in there, but they knew there was some and they knew it could explode and they ran toward, not away. Brave despite fearful, not instead of it.

    Good podcast this week. Touched a nerve, more than one actually.

  5. Tom Preston says:

    I should really have an editor. Bob Schieffer is on Face the Nation, not Meet the Press. I know that. Sorry.